Tag Archives: India

Hennaed

On Tuesday night a group of students got together to talk study abroad. One of the students had recently returned from India and asked me if I would be willing to help do henna at the gathering.

DISCLOSURE: I have NEVER been hennaed, let alone used henna.

But I was willing to give it a shot. In the end, it was much like piping a cake. We looked up designs online and in an hour I tattooed five of the students. Overall, I was pretty excited about how they turned out. We all decided this would be a great activity for a birthday party or ladies night. I just need a bit more practice!

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Disasters Make the Best Stories

One thing I always tell students is they have to have disasters when they study abroad. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have any good stories to tell when they come home. People are always so scared they’ll get lost, get sick, get hit-on, or get pick pocketed that they don’t fully enjoy themselves. And while none of those things are fun when they happen nor am I advocating being lackadaisical, they really are the stories we tell when we get back.

I recently met with a student at my university who studied in India last semester. She had presented on her study abroad experience just a few weeks ago and had shown some of her photographs from her semester abroad during her presentation. One of the pictures that caught my attention was of her walking down a catwalk in a long gown. When I asked her about the photo she explained that it was actually an awkward experience. Some of the Indian students she had met were fashion majors and asked her and several other American students to be in their fashion show. She talked about meeting up for practice and learning about “Indian time”. Sometimes practice would start an hour later. Other times she would come late and they would already be done. She said the gown itself was also an issue. As a rather tall girl, especially by Indian standards, she was slightly stunned that her gown was far too long for her. At 5’9″ she towered over her Indian friends. So who was this dress made for?

We laughed over her stories, the reactions from both her and her Indian peers, and the absurdity of some of the situations. Then I shared my theory. No disasters = no good stories. She thought for a moment and realized that it was true. Almost all the stories she shared from India were disasters at the time.

What disasters from your travels do you share? I’d love some good stories!

Abroad Blog of the Week: Suitcase on the Sidewalk

As someone who went on the same study abroad program three times, I always love to see students who just can’t study abroad enough. Haley from Suitcase on the Sidewalk fits that description perfectly. Now on her third of four overseas programs, I think Haley is the most “studied abroad” student I’ve come across. With a year in India, a semester in Ghana, currently in Buenos Aires, and now planning her semester in Prague, Haley is definitely experienced and adventurous in her travels. She has now been blogging for over a year and her posts cover everything from Argentine graffiti, to homesickness, to her series, Wanderlust Wednesdays. I was fortunate to catch up with Haley and ask her all about her study abroad adventures. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you choose your study abroad locations?

I can’t really take credit for choosing India; the Rotary program that I was selected for reserves the right to send you whenever they want or need to. They asked me where I wanted to go and I said, “Anywhere, as long as you send me!” My flexibility landed me a spot in the program, and was I eventually given a few choices off the beaten path. I picked India for the culture, for a taste of the exotic, but where I could still speak English.  (That part wasn’t so adventurous.)

As for my college study abroad locations, I still wanted to pick places that were less common, that I knew less about.  All the places I am studying have a campus for my college, so it feels a little like cheating. Language and classes have played a huge part in where I chose to go.  For Ghana, it had a lot of classes I wanted- a fine arts minor, some post-colonial studies classes, and it was a chance to see some of Africa. Argentina was a chance to explore South America, and to work on my Spanish.  I’ll be heading to Prague next semester, and I am actually following a specific teacher there, but there is some language flexibility and the chance of exploring Europe.  I have friends in Germany and Hungary I am hoping to visit!

Now that you’re in your third country, has the adjustment process gotten easier for you?

The adjustment is definitely less stressful, though it’s exhausting and scary every time I get on a place.  I’m luck that my friends and family are used to me traveling, and so I don’t need to email or skype all the time.

The best part of having some experience is knowing how to manage my time and my resources, so I don’t feel as overwhelmed my first few weeks. I have a more clear sense of my priorities- for me, going out to party is less important than traveling and exploring my new home.  I do some research and pre-plan some things I want to do, which I think isn’t as common but helps me feel grounded.

I’ve also seen my fair share of travel disasters- pick-pocketing and getting lost and being lost in translation- and I am still here to tell the tale.  That gives me a lot of confidence, even though sometimes I have no idea what I am doing!

From your post on 5 things to remember when studying abroad, what is the most difficult for you?

Never say no!  A dear friend from Rotary gave me that mantra and it has always served me well.  But I still sometimes find myself not buying a sandwich because I’m nervous to order in Spanish, or something equally squeamish.  The golden rule of study abroad is really “what you give is what you get,” and if all you give is “no,” you’ll find yourself only receiving “no” in return.  Saying ‘yes!” can be scary but I very rarely regret it- instead I end up with better experiences, better memories, and a better education in the cultural exchange.

How do you maintain relationships from home, India, and Ghana?

It’s not easy.  I had to make a resolution that I wouldn’t let the distance ruin my relationships with the people I care about.  My family is great, and at this point they treat my going away to study in another country the way other parents treat going to school a few hours away. I still miss them but the Internet is a life-saver, and now I can text my mom from Argentina with a smart phone.  How lucky am I? I also email my host families in India every few months.   It takes a long time for us to go back and forth, but we manage.

Friendships are harder, and take more work for me.  I have friends not just from my hometown, but from New York City (where I go to school), and also all the places I’ve lived.  Facebook is invaluable, as is email and skype, but what it really comes down to is putting in the work to maintain those relationships. I’ve learned I can’t expect people to chase me. I have to be the one to say, “I’m really interested in what you’ve been up to, can we catch up?”  I spend at a couple hours a week skyping and facebook-ing friends; for me it’s time well spent.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself before all your adventures started?

Don’t be scared!  So many people allow fear to dictate their travel experiences- fear of being embarrassed, fear of failing, fear of the unknown.  I travel specifically because it scares me, and I think its important to face those fears and explore what the world has to offer.  My biggest fear when traveling is always looking stupid, which is the worse reason to not do something that I can think of- I’m still trying to outgrow it.  It would be much more reasonable to fear bodily harm or strangers, but India got rid of both of those fears.  I am constantly grateful that I took a gap year alone somewhere far away- I had so much time to mess up and recover and learn, and it was so different from everything I ever knew, that I can brush off a lot the fears that come with study abroad for the first time in college.   Aside from looking stupid, my greatest fear is not using my time abroad to my best advantage, and the two usually balance out well.

Abroad Blog of the Week: The Parallel Life

I started following The Parallel Life a few weeks ago through a chain of Versatile Blogger posts. They are living one of my secret dreams – a thirty-something couple who quit their jobs, saved their money, and are traveling the world for an indefinite amount of time. There blog shares their adventures and great tips if you want to recreate their journey. I was able to catch up with the bloggers, Ashley and Justin, for a virtual drink in Mumbai. Cheers!

Where are you now and what was your last meal?

We are in Mumbai, India at the moment.  Honestly, I have no idea what our last meal was.  No, really, I have no idea.  We don’t have much experience with Indian food, though we’ve eaten it a number of times back home with friends, we just are never in charge of the ordering so we never remember what the dishes are called.  We stopped in a random restaurant for lunch and, not surprisingly, didn’t have a clue what anything on the menu was. We ended up just going roulette style and picked two dishes at random.  We know they were vegetarian, rice on the side, one was definitely a curry of some kind, and they were delicious!

What are the best and most challenging aspects of traveling with your spouse?

The best thing is that we get to spend so much time experiencing all these new places together. It’s hard to believe now, but there were weeks when we were living in New York where we were so busy that we barely saw each other except for a few minutes of overlapping schedules either late at night or early in the morning.  Now we get to hang out all the time!  That’s sort of the most challenging thing also…we have to hang out all the time.  We both had a great set of friends back home and we spent lots of time being social, sometimes together but often with our own separate groups of friends.  Now, it’s just us.  Sure, we meet loads of people along the way in hostels and whatnot (and we’ve met some truly great people that we know we’ll be friends with for years to come), but on a day to day basis it’s only the two of us.  We have nowhere to turn on days when we are really grating on each other’s nerves, so that’s taught us a lot about being patient with each other and learning how to avoid big meltdowns.

What tips would you give on saving money for a trip like yours?

For us, the first thing we had to do was get a realistic grasp of what was coming in and out, budget wise, each month.  Once we sat down and really looked at our financial situation we were able to get an idea of what we might be able to set aside each month with a few changes to our spending habits.  Set a goal for yourself, and really commit to it.  I think that’s the hardest part – the commitment.  If you want to save big and you don’t make a lot of money, you are going to have to sacrifice some things, but keep in mind that there’s a bigger picture and that small sacrifices add up to huge rewards in the end.  We changed little things, like making coffee at home instead of buying it on the way to work, that saved more that you might expect.  We also changed some big things, like that I got a second job once night a week, that helped boost our income.  I wrote a whole post about this before we left (back when my mom was our only reader) and you can find it here:http://theparallellife.com/2011/09/20/how-we-saved-for-our-rtw-trip-part-i-trimming-the-fat/  It says part 1 because I always meant to write another post on how to actually make a budget in the first place…I should probably get on that!

Of all the places you’ve visited so far, if you could go back to just one spot, where would it be and why?

Gah!  This is like the “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life…” question!  There are so many places that we have loved visiting, it’s practically impossible to pick one.  At this moment though, I’d pick the southern coast of Turkey.  It’s got fantastically beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean, great food, nice people and ancient ruins all over the place.  Justin would like to chime in that while he also loved the coast of Turkey, he might pick Buenos Aires, Argentina.   He liked the European feel of the city, the nightlife and of course, the steaks.

Ashley and Justin at Iguazu Falls

Thanks for the interview, Ashley and Justin!

If You Could Study Abroad Again

In my job I’m frequently asked if I could study abroad again, where would I go. Of course, I would never give up my experience in Italy; as an Italian major, it was really the only place for me to go. However, if I could go some place completely different, these would be my top 5:

1. Bangalore, India with USAC

India is definitely on my short list these days. In addition to it being the most affordable tuition price I know of ($3,780 a semester!!), USAC’s program at Christ University in Bangalore has really interesting courses like Bollywood Dance, Women’s Issues in Indian Society, and Buddhism and Hinduism in Contemporary Society.

2. Lima, Peru with ISA

With its lively Latin culture and affordable living, Lima is one of my favorite study abroad spots. ISA’s program at University of San Ignacio de Loyala has a huge variety of classes in English (since my Spanish is pathetic) and offers home-stay options and a variety of excursions, including one to Machu Picchu.

3. Amman, Jordan with SIT

As seen through my book and movie choices, I really like the Middle East.  The SIT program in Jordan focuses on modernization and social change in the region and includes a short and long-term home-stay experience. While a little pricey, the program requires a great deal of independent research – a huge plus for anyone interested in graduate school.

4. Cuenca, Ecuador with CEDEI

One of my student workers went on this program and LOVED it. Up in the mountains of Ecuador, this city has far less American students than Quito and allows for real immersion.  For $12,900 students get their home-stay with meals, tuition, and excursions to Peru and the Galapagos. The program also works on the American calendar which can be nice.

5. St. Petersburg, Russia with AIFS

After reading Soulshine Traveler, Russia has been looking better and better. Another one of my student workers did the AIFS program in St. Petersburg last fall and she continues to sing their praises. In addition to intensive Russian, the program offers great courses like Contemporary Russian Literature and Russian History: from Kiev Russia to the Revolution. Another nice thing about AIFS is that it is all-inclusive and for $11,995 students get tuition, housing, meals, local transportation, and excursions to London, Finland, Estonia, and Moscow.

If you could study abroad again or for the first time, where would you go?